Wait-lists: the Purgatory of the College Admissions Process

College wait-lists are basically the purgatory of the college admissions process.

(Courtesy of getmetocollege.org)

College wait-lists are basically the purgatory of the college admissions process.

Courtney Huitt, Photojournalist

After college admissions letters came out in March, many students came to find out that they had been wait-listed at some colleges. This means that the particular student has not yet been formally accepted into the university, but if spaces become available, they may be offered admission in the upcoming months, dragging out the college admissions process even further. Being wait-listed can be very frustrating for students because even after months of applying and waiting for responses from colleges, you still are not given a clear answer. Payton Janish (12) shares that getting wait-listed to one of her top schools has been “annoying because there are still so many ‘what if’s’ in the equation”. The question is if you have been wait-listed from a specific college, is there an actual chance of still getting into that college?

One important aspect to note is that being wait-listed is not the same as being rejected. Although your future and where you stand in that school’s eyes is still unknown, there is still a possibility of getting in. At that point, schools are still waiting to hear from admitted students if they have chosen to accept or decline enrollment and spots begin to open up for wait-listed students. While wait-list percentages vary from school to school, remember that they are far from guaranteed.

According to Best Value Schools, when acceptance letters are sent out, the college must know the number of students that will actually enroll after being accepted, because in the end, each student can only choose one school. Though numbers typically vary, the average yield that accepts their admission is 50 percent. Assuming those numbers, if a college is expecting half of their admitted students to enroll, they will send double of the number of acceptance letters out than spots available. As the actual yield is hard to estimate, colleges will typically maintain very large wait-lists. Sometimes colleges can get in trouble when using this strategy. For example, in 2017, one-thousand more students than initially expected by Cal Poly San Luis Obispo accepted SLO’s offer of admission, leaving the school “scrambling to provide enough beds and offer more classes” (sanluisobispo.com). This caused the school to reduce freshman enrollment in the fall of 2018.

While being wait-listed means you still have a chance of being admitted to a particular college, an average of only 30 percent of those who decide to stay on the wait-list are admitted into the college (bestvalueschools.com). Obviously you have better odds if the college tells you that you are high on the priority list, but that being said, still, nothing is set in stone. So what should you do? Assuming you have applied and received acceptance letters to other colleges, you should probably put down a deposit until you decide what to do with your wait-list status. If you do make a deposit but are admitted off of the wait-list into your dream school at the last minute, you can still accept the admission, but you will lose the down payment you made on the other college. While losing money is the downside, US News advises students to think of the down payment as an “insurance policy”, because in the event that the school you have been wait-listed to does not offer you an acceptance, you will still be able to attend a college in the fall and you can try to transfer to your top choice in the future if so inclined.

When trying to make it off the wait-list, it is usually advised to students to reach out to the college and more contact than just accepting the wait-list offer. This can include sending the college a few deliberate and well-timed emails that express the student’s continued interest in the college and any new information that could potentially help their admissions status (new awards/honors) without sounding desperate or overbearing. Do not bombard the admissions office with constant emails asking for updates. It is best to convey to the college that the student is a strong applicant and will enroll if accepted. The email should be addressed to the dean of admissions and the admissions representative from the geographic area.  

Altogether, being wait-listed by a college can be frustrating for students. However, it is important to remember not to solely bank on getting off the wait-list and into the college, have a backup plan because while getting off of wait-lists is possible, it is for certain.